Defense secretary: Size of troop increase in Afghanistan will be announced later
United States Department of Defense(NEW YORK) — U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis declined to say how much America will increase its troop numbers in Afghanistan following President Trump’s announcement Monday night of his decision to continue the long-running U.S. military engagement in the South Asian country.
“I’d prefer not to go into those numbers right now,” Mattis said at a press conference in Baghdad, adding, “There is a number that I’m authorized to go up to.”
Mattis said he and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will first put together a plan before announcing the total number of additional forces.
“I’ve directed the chairman to put the plan together now. We’ve obviously been discussing this option for some time. When he brings that to me, I’ll determine how many more [troops] we need to send in,” Mattis said.
Mattis added that once he has the plan, “I’ll look at the number we have on the ground, reorganize those on the ground to align with the new strategy and bring whatever gap-fillers I need.”
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In June, the president gave Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan. Mattis reportedly favors sending in as many as 4,000 additional U.S. forces to push back against gains made by the Taliban and ISIS.
But, Mattis suggested Tuesday that he is not locked into a particular number, and that the final size of the increase in troops will be determined based on the plan presented by Dunford.
“It may or may not be the number that’s bandied about,” Mattis said.
The Defense Department chief said in a statement Monday night that he will consult with the NATO secretary general and other U.S. allies — “several of which have also committed to increasing their troop numbers.”
Trump, in an address to the nation Monday night, said that the U.S. will forgo a formal timetable for its military operations in Afghanistan and instead let “conditions on the ground” guide U.S. tactics.
Dunford called the president’s strategy “a new approach to Afghanistan and the region.”
“Our Afghan partners know that our commitment is strong and enduring,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said in a statement. “Our future presence will be based on conditions and not arbitrary timelines. This new strategy means the Taliban cannot win militarily. Now is the time to renounce violence and reconcile. A peaceful, stable Afghanistan is victory for the Afghan people and the goal of the coalition.”
The Afghanistan conflict is America’s longest war — lasting 16 years so far and costing over 2,000 American lives. An estimated 8,400 U.S. troops are now serving in Afghanistan in an advisory capacity or in counterterror operations against al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan, the ISIS affiliate in the country.
Trump said in his speech that his “original instinct” was to pull troops out of Afghanistan, but after taking office and consulting with military leaders, he changed his views.
He warned Monday against a hasty withdrawal that would allow terrorists safe haven and criticized President Obama’s troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2009 which Trump says led to the rise of ISIS. He also called out Pakistan for harboring terrorist groups, saying Pakistan has “much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan.”
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